Once upon a time, there was a busy lawyer who met a dashing pilot on a blind date. They fell in love, got married, and built their dream house on a quiet acre in rural Delaware. Life was so wonderful that they decided to start a family, and soon they were counting down the days to the birth of their healthy baby boy. Everything was perfect, and they looked forward to many happy years in their dream house watching the sunsets from the porch swing.
If that were a real fairy tale, my family’s story would have ended there with a resounding, “and they lived happily ever after.” But of course, life is seldom like a fairy tale.
The world was turned upside down by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. As a result, my husband was laid off from his airline job. I had already left my job on maternity leave. We had a baby on the way, mortgage payments to make, and no income. I remember crying a lot in the days that followed. What kind of world were we bringing our child into? How could we afford to clothe and feed him? This wasn’t fair. Not to him, not to any of us. This was not the life I had planned.
Once I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I realized how lucky I was. Thousands of innocent people had lost their lives that day. What was happening to us seemed rather insignificant by comparison. We had resources and options. We had each other. No, this wasn’t the life I planned, but as someone once said, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
Shortly afterwards, after much discussion and soul-searching, we made the decision that we would sell our house and my husband would return to active duty with the USAF. We said a tearful goodbye to family, packed our newborn into the minivan, and headed off together on a new journey.
That’s what I feel life as a military spouse is like. It’s like taking a giant step toward the unknown. We make a promise that we’ll head down the road together, no matter how it twists and turns. Sometimes the journey is one of sadness and uncertainty. The tears of a child who doesn’t understand why daddy isn’t there for Christmas. The worry and loneliness of long separations. More often, the journey has been filled with adventure, pride, and unexpected joys.
From the vantage point of a decade or so later, I wonder what my life would have been like had it gone the way I so perfectly imagined. True, we’d be in the dream house that we designed ourselves. Many of the other airline employees who were laid off in the wake of 9/11 stayed put and did just fine for themselves. But the view of the country sunset from the porch swing is now, apparently, blocked by a microchip factory. And after living in our share of remote duty stations, we came to realize that maybe the quiet country life isn't really for us.
As military spouses, we know that each PCS means that kids are often uprooted just as they are beginning to make new friends. Nothing makes a parent feel as powerless as seeing their kids in pain. But military kids are more resilient than most, and how many other kids their age have scaled the walls of ancient Roman ruins in England or gazed on Michelangelo’s David?
And maybe I didn’t have the brilliant legal career I had imagined. Like many military spouses, my resume has employment gaps so large you could fly a C-130 through them. Still, it’s been satisfying to make small differences in people’s lives from time to time, and those huge gaps meant that I was able to be a Brownie leader, a homeroom mom, and a school trip chaperone. Somehow, arguing in front of the Supreme Court doesn’t seem quite as important anymore.
Most of all, this journey has taught me so much about myself and other military spouses. We know that family isn’t about dream houses and porch swings. It’s about getting through the hardships together and being stronger for it. It’s about those precious moments as a family you steal when you can. We know how to change a tire and fix a leaky faucet with the same ease as making a casserole or sewing the button back on a teddy bear. We know how to tap into reserves of strength most people never know they have.
To paraphrase Robert Frost, we did not choose the “road less traveled” so much as it was chosen for us. I would not choose any other road if I could, not in spite of the way things have turned out, but because of it.
Now that road has led me and my family here to our nation’s capital. Yes, it’s ridiculously humid, and the traffic is as bad as everyone warned, but it is exactly where I want to be! We've bought a house, the kids are in a terrific school, and a year after moving here, I am still amazed at the variety of historical sites and world-class museums the area has to offer. We’ve certainly never lacked for something to do on the weekends.
And the road has led me here, too, sitting down to write my first post for this new blog. I hope to be able to share my experiences on deployment, the struggles of trying to maintain a career while a military spouse, and life here in the DC area. I really hope you’ll share, too.
I’m looking forward to beginning the next part of the journey!